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Feds: Wolves near Jackson free of brucellosis

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP)--None of 11 wolves captured in Jackson Hole recently tested positive for brucellosis, according to a federal biologist.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Mike Jimenez said six of the wolves live on the National Elk Refuge. Four of the other wolves live next to the refuge.

The average brucellosis infection rate among elk on the refuge has been about 28 percent since 1980. Brucellosis is a bacteria that causes pregnant elk and cattle to abort their fetuses.

The Wyoming Legislature this winter considered a bill that would have required testing all wolves captured or killed in the state for brucellosis. The bill didn't pass.

Some conservationists described the bill as a scare tactic intended to perpetuate myths about wolves. Veterinarians consider wolves and other canines to be largely immune from spreading the bacteria.

Jimenez said concern over the prospect of wolves carrying the disease prompted him to begin testing trapped and killed wolves for brucellosis last summer.

"We've always done tests on wolves for diseases," Jimenez said March 13. He said they mainly test for canine distemper and parvo virus.

Regarding brucellosis, Jimenez said, "From all the vets we've talked to, we didn't think that was an issue."

Jimenez said he began sending blood samples to a lab to test for the disease "just because everybody started bringing it up," he said. "It's not that big deal to test for it."

Although it is possible to infect canines with brucellosis in laboratory conditions, Jimenez said veterinarians say a wolf would be a "dead-end host" that would not spread the disease.

Even on the elk refuge, where elk are heavily infected with brucellosis, Jimenez said the blood tests show resident wolves are not contracting the disease.

"If there's ever a place where wolves would have the chance for eating brucellosis-infected elk, this would be it." Jimenez said.

In addition to the 11 wolves recently tested, blood tests were performed on another dozen or so wolves starting last summer. All of those returned with negative results.

"Wolves are not a player in the transmission of brucellosis, according to all the vets we've talked to," Jimenez said. Testing will continue with results routinely shared with Wyoming Game and Fish.

Although brucellosis exists in wildlife in Wyoming, cattle in the state have been classified as brucellosis-free since September 2006. Brucellosis was found again this summer in cows from a Sublette County herd.

If the disease turns up in more Wyoming cattle, officials say the state could lose its federal brucellosis-free status. That could result in expensive testing requirements for transportation of animals.

In Montana, bison advocates and some property owners near Yellowstone National Park have complained current policies have failed to prevent transmission of brucellosis to domestic animals.

Montana ranchers lost their brucellosis-free status after wildlife--likely elk--transmitted the disease to domestic cattle. It is now more difficult to export livestock from the state.

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